Notes on potentiality and actuality


  • What can be
  • Potential, Potency, Possibility, Capability, Dunamis (Greek) etc. – but there is an uncertainty if it will ever become actuality.
  • Noumenon
  • Unmanifest, hidden
  • Before the experience
  • In his philosophy, Aristotle distinguished two meanings of dunamis (Possibility). According to his understanding of nature there were:
    • Weak sense of potential (“Chance to happen or not to happen”, “Do something mindlessly”, “Natures that do not persist”, “Things happen by chance”)
    • Strong sense of potential (“Preference to make it happen”, “How something could be done well”, “Things that are stable”, “Strong tendency to happen”)


  • What is
  • Currently happening, Reality
  • Phenomenon
  • Manifest, visible
  • At the time of experience
  • Actuality is often used to translate both energeia (ενέργεια) and entelecheia (ἐντελέχεια) (sometimes rendered in English as “entelechy”)
    • Energia: Being at work, “is at work”ness (eg: Pleasure, happiness, kinesis)
    • Entelechy: being-at-an-end, the realization of potential, whatever happens to be the case right now leading to final reality

Everything exists in a state of potentiality ready to spring forth into a state of actuality. But what converts the potentiality into actuality?

We cannot know the unmanifest potentiality. Even though the manifest actuality arises from the unmanifest potentiality, it only represents only a single possibility that materialized into reality. By studying the actuality post facto, we can learn of one potential that actually materialized. However, there could be multiple potentials that cannot be inferred as they are not yet manifest. Inability to know the unmanifest can be mitigated to some extent by learning from the manifest. However, a complete grasp of unmanifest potential is not possible.

From Ashish Dalela:
This idea is very unintuitive in Western philosophy where “reality” is that which exists independent and outside of our experience, and our experience is a phenomena, not reality. Therefore, we never call the phenomena a reality in Western philosophy because we think that reality exists materially and objectively outside my mind. However, if you extend this idea to its logical limit, then reality must also be outside God’s mind—i.e. exist even prior to God’s experience. How can then God be the origin of reality if this reality is outside God’s experience, and He only becomes aware of this reality? Atheism thus follows naturally from the idea that there is some reality outside the observer.